Oct 29, 2014

News! GAC to voluntarily test samples of shoreline sediment.

GAC to voluntarily test samples of shoreline sediment

By Jordan Bailey | Oct 24, 2014     Reposted from Waldo Village Soup
Photo by: Jordan BaileyAerial view of GAC Chemical Corporation, courtesy of Project LightHawk.
SEARSPORT — GAC Chemical Corp., located on Stockton Harbor in Searsport, has voluntarily entered into an agreement with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to investigate whether its shoreline is contaminated from historic uses of the site, and if it is, to clean it up.
Community members have raised concern that a former sulfuric acid manufacturing facility on the western side of the property may be leaching contaminants to the shore and adjacent mudflats, and are now advocating that the public be involved in the development of the voluntary investigation and possible clean-up plan.
The state's Voluntary Response Action Program provides liability protection for  applicants and others in exchange for investigation and cleanup.
According to Maine statute, to be protected from DEP enforcement actions, the VRAP applicant must "undertake and complete response actions to remove or remedy all known discharges, releases and threatened releases at an identified area of real property in accordance with a voluntary response action plan approved by the commissioner,” or partially clean up the site if the cleanup action protects public health and the environment.
Nick Hodgkins, VRAP coordinator at the department, confirmed that the chemical company is participating in the program. GAC will submit sampling data to DEP for review, and from there, additional testing or a remedial plan could follow.
Past studies 
“The intertidal area below GAC Chemical has been studied extensively over the last 30 years in coordination with the Maine DEP,” GAC president David Colter wrote in an email to The Republican Journal.
“A past study completed by the Marine Environmental Monitoring Program states that 'marine life in the area is reproducing and growing' and no remediation of the area is recommended," he said. "Our voluntary entry into [VRAP] demonstrates GAC’s willingness to perform further testing in an effort to determine the current status of conditions in the intertidal area.”
Colter also said that information being disseminated about the condition of the intertidal area is not accurate, and said “we encourage anyone with questions to contact us or the DEP directly to obtain accurate information.”
FOPB concerns
Local activist group Friends of Penobscot Bay has been pressuring municipal, state and federal authorities to conduct a full investigation of the site, including sampling and testing of the shoreline sediments near the former plant. The group collected mud samples there and sent them to Dr. Mark Green, an oceanography professor at St. Joseph's College and a state Ocean Acidification Commission member, who found them to be highly acidic.
Green concluded in an April 9 report on his study of the samples, “Results presented here clearly demonstrate a significant anthropogenic acid source and should merit concern for the well-being of local residents in contact with these sediments, recreation in the immediate area and wildlife.”
No official investigation to verify these results has been initiated by DEP, the U.S. Coast Guard or the Environmental Protection Agency, or by the Searsport Select Board, which FOPB members addressed July 15. DEP determined no additional action was necessary and the other three bodies deferred to DEP's conclusion.
FOPB has been in communication with GAC as well about its concerns. According to emails between Colter and FOPB President Ron Huber, which Huber provided to The Journal, Colter and FOPB members conducted a site walk of the GAC property in July 2012Colter agreed GAC would clean up much of the inert ceramic debris and look into options for dealing with erosion of the banks along the shore.
In May 2014, Colter wrote to Huber: "Over the past nine months we have had our shoreline reviewed and/or inspected by seven representatives from the Maine DEP and licensed professionals from an environmental consulting firm hired by GAC. It was determined that the erosion along our shoreline is not significant and does not require immediate attention." Colter indicated then that the company was considering voluntary action at the site.
Under state oversight
A DEP memo details one visit to the site in October 2013 in which officials visually inspected the sediment and potential pollution sources, and determined no further action was necessary.
The officials reviewed logs of boring samples taken in the 1980s. Sulfur was noted in the logs as being present in one boring. Around the former sulfuric acid plant, the memo notes, “small pieces of sulfur were visible on the surface … and some yellow discoloration was apparent, primarily south and west of the plant” in a "poorly vegetated area" and that “it looks as though surface water runoff would flow over the bank ... toward an area of the shore where we noted discoloration in the intertidal area.” Gradual erosion was also noted.
Kelsey O'Neil, community involvement coordinator at the EPA New England office, said an investigation is referred to the EPA by a state's environmental department if it is unable to respond adequately to a problem with resources it has available, which has not happened in this case.
“It is under the state's oversight at this point,” she said.
Call for public involvement
Although the EPA will not be devoting any resources toward an investigation of the GAC site, James Chow of the EPA enforcement office did make a phone call to Hodgkins at DEP in which he advised Hodgkins that there is significant community and public interest in the area and encouraged him to afford the public an opportunity to be involved.
There are three tiers of public involvement to which a VRAP project may be required to adhere, ranging from maintaining a public record and listing the site on the Division of Remediation site list, to notifying the municipality and adjacent property owners about activities on the site, to a Tier 3 requirement for public review and comment on the proposed work plan.
FOPB is calling for Tier 3 public involvement for the site. Hodgkins told Chow the Tier 3 requirement would be triggered if any off-site contamination is found.
FOPB has contacted the Army Corps of Engineers and, at the suggestion of Mike Barry of EPA, will contact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to request that it initiate a National Resource Damage Assessment Process to determine if federally owned property at Sears Island has been impacted by contaminants from the GAC property.
GAC has not submitted a sampling plan to DEP as of Oct. 21, so it is uncertain how extensive the sampling will be.
"We will continue to work to ensure that our operations are conducted consistent with all environmental and other regulatory requirements," Colter said. "We believe in working proactively with regulatory authorities, which we have done and will continue to do."

Oct 15, 2014

Gulf of Maine weather buoys enter replacement phase PlusTEXT-A-BUOY

Tom Shyka  of NERACOOS' short update on our Gulf of Maine weather buoys  and note that a buoy off Monhegan has gotten loose and is drifting about.

Click here for a map with links to all the science and weather buoys off new England and up its rivers

Buoy Refreshment – Gulf of Maine data buoys are currently going through a replacement phase during the Fall. Deployed data buoys are being replaced with refreshed buoys to ensure maintenance and reliability of their systems. Mr. Shyka highlighted that Buoy E, which is usually deployed South of Monhegan Island is currently adrift and is short listed for recovery and replacement. The buoy refreshment operation will extend through October and November.

Text-a-Buoy – The text-a-buoy system was discussed as a simple tool to receive important offshore buoy data via text. See http://www.neracoos.org/datatools/text-a-buoy for more details and to sign up.

NERACOOS' new data portal  will "pull critical wind, wave, water level and other data from various sources into one consolidated portal. The system is expected to be very valuable in forecasting coastal flooding following  major storms/hurricanes .  http://www.neracoos.org/realtime_map
The NERACOOS website www.neracoos.org provides a variety of ocean and weather data displays. Contact Tom Shyka tom@neracoos.org with questions.

Oct 3, 2014

GAC Chemical's Water Pollution Waterloo?

For Immediate release

SEARSPORT.  While MDEP has announced that it is pondering a GAC pollution pardon, Penobscot Bay environmental and seafood advocates
 hold talks with federal EPA officials on 10am Friday October 3rd over the acid plumes visibly leaving GAC Chemical's property on Stockton Harbor.

Activists say  a thorough and comprehensive cleanup  plan must be agreed to by the bay's fishery and conservation communities  and the state before immunity is granted to polluter GAC Chemical

PRESENT SITUATION State and federal officials are at cross purposes over what to do  about chronic sulfuric acid spiller/leaker GAC Chemical Corp and half century of discharges into extensive tidal flats  of the southwestern corner of Stockton Harbor.

EPA officials say their hands are tied by Maine DEP's refusal to allow them   to examine the plume-beribboned site in Searsport, a semi-enclosed pocket cove  created by construction of the Sears Island Causeway  which created a barrier between Stockton Harbor and Searsport Harbor, and a mitigation sandbar that separates the pocket cove from the rest of the harbor  much of the time.

While the federal agency marks time, the state is  working out a deal with GAC. They have finally opened negotiations on a voluntary cleanup of the abandoned sulfuric acid plant perched atop the tip of Kidder Point.

This after 15 years of ignoring calls to organize a  Voluntary Response Action Plan for the site.  Late last week Maine DEP pollution cleanup official Nick Hodgkins told Friends of Penobscot Bay that the agency recently held talks with the company about remediating its abandoned sulfuric acid plant and adjacent wastes.

Hodgkins said the company is expected to present DEP with a preliminary plan in November.  The VRAP deal would  pardon GAC  for  discharging sulfuric acid and other wastes into Stockton Harbor in violation of Maine's  pollution laws.

The Friends of Penobscot Bay are insisting that under VRAP's decision matrix, Maine DEP needs to incorporate "Tier III" extensive community review of  GAC's  cleanup plan. Under Tier III  the community has a say in the extent of  cleanup  the company must perform. More about the Matrix

FOPB executive director  Ron Huber said that the people who fish, clam, birdwatch and beachcomb there want the cleanup as complete as possible.

"Unless they get to put their two cents in," Huber said, "the state could approve a  token cosmetic cleanup that doesn't stop the pollution of the harbor, nor remove the waste already tainting a portion of the flats.

That's not going to happen, he said.

This won't be easy for DEP. .  "GAC Chemical's CEO David Colter and Governor Lepage  are close acquaintances,"  he  noted. "The governor  just gave GAC Chemical a 'Business Excellence' award for a successful trade mission.  But these don't absolve GAC  of accountability for the decades of acid waste discharges from their property."

"True Business Excellence includes GAC dealing with its legacy wastes" Huber said. "If GAC will stop beating the bay, we will give them an Environmental Excellence award."

Historic Pollution Well Documented
Activists contend the state's own documents show that between 1940 and 1970,  large amounts of waste from fertilizer and alum manufacturing operations  were dumped into wooden containment cells along the company-  owned shoreline  along Kidder Point.

The records also detail numerous acid spills large and small that have gone gone directly into those collapsing containment cells.

"Their 1980s acid spill maps show unlawfully low pHs in the same vicinity that we citizen scientists and  a university professor detected last  year." said Ron Huber  of Friends of Penobscot Bay. This is  a chronic problem that is not going to fix itself.  EPA knows it. DEP knows it. GAC has finally admitted that it too knows it."

Further, the group says,  federally owned flats and beaches across the pocket cove from GAC Chemical  are being impacted by  the highly acidic plumes that  emanate from beneath the abandoned sulfuric acid facility  and travel across  that pocket cove.  They say that  EPA has no choice but to protect "their" property from the GAC pollution.

"GAC has pulled the trigger," said Ron Huber of Friends of Penobscot Bay. "Uncle Sam can try to pretend GAC missed, but that red fluid leaking out and across the people's clamflats there tells a different story

A number of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) have been identified by SPECIATE as being present in the phosphate manufacturing process. Some HAPs identified include hexane, methyl alcohol, formaldehyde, methyl
ethyl ketone, benzene, toluene, and styrene. Heavy metals such as lead and mercury are present in the phosphate rock. The phosphate rock is mildly radioactive due to the presence of some radionuclides.
No emission factors are included for these HAPs, heavy metals, or radionuclides due to the lack of sufficient data.